The Church: Its Nature, Its Marks and Its Purposes

Posted: February 10, 2009 in Uncategorized

We now come to Part 6 of Wayne Grudem’s massive Systematic Theology which covers the doctrine of the church.  Get comfortable, we will be in part 6 for a while.

Grudem defines the church as “the community of all true believers for all time.” He adds, “This definition understands the church to be made of all those who are truly saved.  Paul says, ‘Christ loved the churchand gave himself up for her’ (Eph. 5:25).”  Furthermore, “So great is God’s plan for the church that he has exalted Christ to a position of highest authority for the sake of the church: ‘He has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is the body, the fullness of him who fills all in all’ (Eph. 1:22-23).”

Contrary to public opinion, it is not the music or the children’s program or a set of blueprints from a pastor’s conference but that builds the church–that job belongs to Jesus only.  See Matt. 16:18 and Acts 2:47.

Who does the church consist of? Grudem argues from Acts 7:38 and Hebrews 12:1 that those who demonstrated faith in God before the coming of Christ are members of the eternal church.  In the former text, the Waynester asserts that Stephen’s use of ekklesia (translated as “church” in the New Testament) to refer to Israel in the wilderness is evidence of such.  Although I hate to disagree with the Great and Powerful Grudem, Luke also uses ekklesia to refer to the Ephesian mob (Acts 19:32), so while I agree with his conclusion, I’m not sure I would read so much into Stephen’s use of the term.

Grudem goes on to differentiate between the invisible church (i.e., the chuch as God sees it, 2 Tim. 2:19) and the visible church (i.e., the church as Christians on earth see it).  The latter may contain those who really false teachers (Matt. 7:15-16) also known as “wolves” (Acts 20:29-30).

Grudem also differentiates between the church local and universal.  As stated before, in one sense, THE church is the “community of all true believers for all time” but the church is also a meeting of two or more gathered in the name of Jesus (Matt. 18:19-20). 

In order to truly comprehend the mystery of the church, the inspired authors of Scripture utilize a number of different metaphors such as “family”  (2 Cor. 6:18), “the bride of Christ” (Eph. 5:32) and the “body of Christ” (1 Cor. 12:12-27).

Grudem then asks the question, “What is the relationship between the church and the kingdom of God?”  The Waynester wisely points to the brilliant work of late New Testament scholar George Eldon Ladd who wrote,

The kingdom is primarily the dynamic reign or kingly rule of God, and derivatively, the sphere in which the rule is experienced. In biblical idiom, the Kingdom is not identical with its subjects. They are the people of God’s rule who enter it, live under it, and are governed by it. The church is the community of the Kingdom but never the Kingdom itself. Jesus’ disciples belong to the Kingdom as the Kingdom belongs to them; but they are not the Kingdom. The Kingdom is the rule of God; the church is a society of women and men.

Grudem goes on to summarize five aspects of the relationship between the kingdom and the church, again, according to G.E. Ladd: “(1) the church is not the kingdom; (2) the kingdom creates the church; (3) the church witnesses to the kingdom of God; (4) the church is the instrument of the kingdom, and (5) the church is the custodian of the kingdom.”

Okay, but what are the “marks” of the church? Here again, instead of re-inventing the wheel, Grudem points to the work of others, namely the arguments of the reformers who asserted that church is “the congregation of the saints in which the gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments rightly administered.”  The latter refers to baptism and the Lord’s Supper, which we will cover later.

Finally, Grudem summarizes the purposes of the church, which he rightly asserts are to worship God (Col. 3:16), nurture believers (Col. 1:28) and to minister to the world via evangelism (Matt. 28:16-20) and social justice (Acts 11:29). 

Tomorrow we will cover the purity and unity of the church.

Until then, grace and peace.


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